Outside the line was long, extending two or three abreast out into the parking lot as people waited for the doors of the Temple to open. After changing into white clothing, over 1500 ordinance workers and their spouses of the Washington, D.C. Temple district, along with Stake and Mission Presidents and their wives, filled the Priesthood Room on the seventh floor of the Temple to capacity. This sea of white-clothed Saints extended from the multi-tiered stands on the eastern end of this cavernous room all the way to the western end as we waited for our guests to arrive, hours before they were due.
The occasion was a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Washington, D.C. Temple held this past Sunday on November 21, 2004. Given that this commemoration occurred on the cusp of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, it was combined with the traditional holiday devotional for temple workers. The guest of honor was our beloved Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, and accompanying him were Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve and his wife, Barbara, and D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy and his wife, Katherine. As the Prophet entered the room, everyone spontaneously rose as has become customary, though no instruction was given to do so.
It was a joyful event. We sang both the songs of Zion and the carols of the season. The centerpiece of the singing was the Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C. and its many fine soloists, but the congregation joined it in many hymns. Together we raised a “joyful noise unto the Lord,” and the reverberations lasted for several seconds after each song ended.
In reviewing the 30-year history of the Temple the matron, Sister Lois Scholz, paid tribute to all the ordinance workers—heroes, she called them–who had served faithfully over all those years. There were some in the audience who were at the original dedication services and had been ordinance workers for the entire 30-year span. Temple President, E. Joachim Scholz, noted the growth that had occurred over 30 years. He said that the original Temple district extended from the North Pole to the South Pole and from the Mississippi to Bermuda. Now, 40 temples stand within those old boundaries. Within the Temple’s present boundaries there used to be only two stakes; now there are 40 stakes in the same area. This was, he said, a miracle. Individual miracles occur when families come to the Temple, when patrons come for the saving ordinances even in the face of physical handicaps and difficulties. President Scholz said, “The eternal perspective of the temple ordinances promises them home, healing and happiness.”
It was a time of reminiscences for others who spoke. Elder Ballard recalled being at the dedication 30 years before. He was President of the Canada Toronto Mission, which at the time was in the Washington, D.C. Temple district. Little did he know while sitting in the dedicatory services that he would be called to the Seventy shortly thereafter. Elder Christofferson was a young Bishop in a nearby ward and often sought the solace of the Temple where he brought his burdens before the Lord and received answers to his prayers.
I have my own memories of dedicatory events 30 years ago, which I have shared here with Meridian readers previously.
President Hinckley stressed the eternal nature of the work that goes on in our temples. It is because life is eternal that we need temples, he said. President Hinckley is certainly in a position to have the perspective of the meaning of temples in our lives. He was at the dedication of the Washington, D.C. Temple 30 years ago and in his remarks during the ninth session he said, “It is my testimony that there is an unseen audience at this gathering. I am satisfied that the Prophet Joseph, who came here in 1833 and rented, as he said, the cheapest boarding room that could be found in the city of Washington—the only accommodation he could afford—is here; that Brigham Young, who knew much of the rebuffs of federal officials, is here; that Reed Smoot, who came here as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and was cuffed about smiles upon us; and President Joseph F. Smith, who was under cross examination here for month in an attempt to have him reveal the holy and sacred things of the Church, looks down today with satisfaction; and likewise a great host of others.” One could only wonder what unseen audience was present on this occasion.
The Church has come a long way since that time. President Hinckley quoted President Kimball, who presided over the dedication 30 years ago and likened it to coming out of a wilderness of darkness. And it has continued to prosper in this area as previously mentioned. For the last 30 years the Washington, D.C. Temple, set dramatically as it is on a promontory overlooking the city, has been a beacon on a hill—not only in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense too. It has contributed to the architecture of the city, but it has also contributed to the spirituality of those of us who live here. One wonders what broader influence its presence in this center of government has had toward tempering the effects of evil and fostering righteousness.
But, as President Hinckley noted, the economy of temples has changed over the years as the Church as learned more about temple building. The Washington, D.C. Temple is the third largest temple in the Church after Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Today’s temples are smaller, but it is still possible for them to rival the number of ordinances performed in the larger temples as a fraction of the cost. So the challenge he left with the saints was clear. Even after 30 years of phenomenal growth in this area, it is no time us to rest on their laurels. Increased temple attendance is still very much a priority.
The devotional ended much the same way it started, with songs and salutations. It is difficult to describe the power of 1500 saints in the holiest room in the most sacred place in town singing “Silent Night.” Emotions were on the edge and tears flowed freely. As the Prophet descended the stand everyone rose, as before. President Hinckley gently waved goodbye and everyone spontaneously responded in kind in the same manner as they would to any loved one departing on a trip—a sign of genuine affection. After some time the room was empty, the parking lot vacant. But every heart was full—enough to sustain fond memories for another 30 years.